MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Anything to smile about is welcome at Network Centre

Things were looking grim for ITV this week. Given the Competition Commission's nagging involvement, it seems that the likelihood of its merger going through intact is about on a par with a Daily Mail reader voting "yes" for a local asylum seekers' hostel and the euro in the same week.

The commission's latest pesky meddling, following its concerns over a single ITV sales house, is its plan to look into the prohibition of share deals, the contracts that commit a share of advertiser and agency budgets to TV. While this is potentially a softening in its hard line, the commission is likely to recommend conditions that will water down the deal, the most likely being a sell-off of the sales houses with a review in five years time.

And all this within a bleak trading environment that has seen projected revenues for June plummet, with every chance that this will continue throughout the summer. Staggering as it may seem, though, there was some good news for ITV.

First, Granada's half-year results, issued earlier this week, weren't at all bad. The chairman, Charles Allen, a pugnacious little bruiser if ever there was one, donned his shiny boxing shorts once again to announce: "The ITV fightback is well underway. ITV is benefiting from a clear strategy, better scheduling, more focused marketing and a bigger programming budget." Advertising revenues were up 1 per cent, profits 35 per cent and turnover 3 per cent.

And as if to prove Allen right, at least on one count, there was another small glimmer through a cloudy horizon with ITV receiving plaudits for the one thing it usually receives most derision for: its programming.

Hot on the heels of its jungle triumph I'm A Celeb (and, whatever you think of it, 12 million viewers for the final show was an achievement), an ITV show was named best comedy at the prestigious Montreaux Festival.

And while it might have been nice to picture cheesy old Ant & Dec or Brian Conley triumphing, the best comedy show in the world was actually The All New Harry Hill Show.

Proof that ITV has invested in quality programming and ideas that go beyond The Bill or Coronation Street. And something that the network can point to when accused of shoddy, lazy scheduling - after all, beating off the likes of Channel 4's Smack the Pony is no mean feat.

However, the summer schedule contains its usual share of derivative tat.

Caroline Quentin's much touted Blue Murder was a watered-down Prime Suspect and the prospect of Brian Conley's Judgement Day game show fills me with horror.

But the likes of Harry Hill and The Forsyte Saga sit comfortably alongside soaps and the CSI rip-off MIT, providing a bit of variety for viewers and advertisers. It's unlikely though that a couple of programming awards have done much to allay the jitters at ITV. Only good news from Tessa Jowell will do that.

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